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Can Social Media Break Through the Paywall? February 5, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in InformationIssues.
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Newspapers have been struggling to maintain revenue and readership, as readers have replaced their print subscriptions with free online resources. Notably, the New York Times recently announced it was considering putting its online content behind a paywall, meaning it would only be available to subscribers. This comes following a number of other print media sources installing paywalls, including the Wall Street Journal.

But these days, social media plays a huge role in the spread of all kinds of media, whether it is a video going viral, or a news scoop breaking on CNN’s Twitter feed, or an announcement of award nominees on the Oscars’ Facebook Page.

That’s because people like to be connected and find things in common. Before the Internet, before TV, before radio, before paper even, people would gather and spread the news or stories. The only reason some of the ancient classics have survived was because of the oral tradition of gathering together and repeating stories over and over through the ages.

Now, I’m not even remotely trying to claim that we need to be able to share news through social media for posterity, just pointing out that it is in man’s nature to want to share the things he finds interesting (at least that’s how it seems to me).  Whether it is through Facebook or Twitter, or even e-mail, sharing links to interesting stories or funny pictures, or current events – its a way of connecting with each other.

For better or for worse, more and more the electronic connections are replacing the face-to-face connections, or even the voice-to-voice. It’s not just kids and teenagers either – email and instant messaging have replaced walking down the hall in offices, and texting has replaced phone calls for many people. With many of my friends (if they can even still be called that) the only interaction we have any more is sharing articles and bits of information found on the internet with each other, via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or even this blog.

You might be surprised to know that I am actually a proponent of Intellectual Property Laws. I understand why and how they are are intended to work to promote progress and the proliferation of information, when not abused to prevent it. Maybe I’ll try and explain it someday, but for now, lets just say I get why the newspapers feel not only the need, but the right to limit access to their content. And I’m not going to argue that I would feel differently if it was my company that was hemorrhaging profits while giving away product for free. However, knowing how people interact with their news and their media, and their sharing sites, it still seems to me refusing to allow users to share content is a mistake.

This article points out that newspapers who put their content behind a paywall, do in fact see a drop in traffic to their site, which in turn leads to less revenue from advertising. Can the revenue generated by subscription fees make up that difference? We’ll have to wait and see… But, the problem of sharing still remains… how many users will want to subscribe and support a site that doesn’t allow them to share their favorite topics?

How to Start a Conversation With an Alien January 20, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Uncategorized.
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How would you convey information to someone faraway if you didn’t speak the same language? Often, we use images. But what if the recipient doesn’t see the same way you do? Or hear the same way? And what if you weren’t exactly sure where your recipient was located or if the message would reach him before the end of your civilization? What then? These are all the questions that New Scientist raises in their exploration of attempts to contact intelligent life in our universe.

For years we have been listening to radio waves and other inter-galactic noise hoping for a message from deep in the cosmos. But after frustrating years of silence, various groups have decided that it is time to send messages into space. Leading the vast attempt is the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, founded in 1984. Despite its somewhat dubious name, the institute has worked on various projects with a long list of well-respected institutions both public and private.

Attempts by SETI and other groups are perhaps most interesting in the way they are constructed, often building off mathematics with the idea that this is the only truly universal language. Once the mathematical concepts are understood, more complex messages can be decoded such as what humans look like, or something more complex like the periodic table of elements. Many scientists believe the key to comprehension will come with quantity over quality. As with the deciphering of any code or the comprehension of any language, more is more.

Astronomers Yvan Dutil and Stephane Dumas from Defence Research and Development Canada in Valcartier, Quebec, sent a message in 2008 comprised of contributions from a social networking site as well as 26,000 text messages, along with more complicated graphs and diagrams towards a planetary system near a sun-like star. These messages will reach the system in 2029, a short amount of time compared to the bulk of these types of messages that may take thousands of years to reach their destination. Besides time, where to send messages and to which planetary systems are a wide source of debate.

While the prognosis sounds doubtful, I believe that, not too far into the future, scientific innovation will allow us to send these messages further and more quickly. What I believe our biggest challenge will be is to (for lack of a better term) “think outside of the planet.” Until we can understand what it means to truly communicate outside the limitations of humanity, we will not be able to start a universal conversation in any manner.

Make sure to read the whole article by New Scientist here.